When two people are destined to cross paths, something powerful takes place. St. Beauty bandmates Alex Belle and Isis Valentino proved this phenomenon after meeting at work and discovering they had more than a love for vintage clothing in common.
“We used to work at a vintage store together and they started having showcases in their basement,” said Valentino. “Alex went to perform and she asked me one day if I knew anyone who could play guitar. I offered to play and that was our first show as St. Beauty. We got a really great response and from there we just kind of knew it was a magical moment and we should just keep it going.”
Their persistence eventually paid off when Janelle Monáe discovered them and signed them to her label, Wondaland Records.
I caught up with the Atlanta bred duo to talk about their unique sound, which is rooted in R&B with a perfect medley of countless other genres. They also dished on their style and beauty secrets, and what it felt like to hear two of their songs play on Issa Rae’s hit HBO show, Insecure.
Abi: Two of your songs, “Borders” and “Holographic Lover,” played on Insecure, Issa Rae’s new hit show on HBO. How did it feel to hear your music on that show?
Alex Belle: It was crazy because it was on HBO. It was like ‘wow, is this is real right now?’ It was where it was in the show and how perfect it fit and then going into the credits, it was like wow. I didn’t expect for it to be played through the credits like that.
Isis Valentino: We had no idea. We knew it was going to be on the show. We were already just excited about that but then like Alex said, it kept playing and it was like, ‘what!?’ [LAUGHS]. That was our first placement so we were excited. We had a little get together and everything. It was a moment.
Abi: Borders, there’s so much power in that tune. How would you translate it?
Alex: Both Isis and I come at it from two different perspectives. But they still connect. My perspective is not necessarily being in Tokyo or being in Mexico, it’s about mentally being there. You’re away from somebody mentally. You’re not thinking about somebody and you got away and it wasn’t the best relationship and getting away from it was the best for you so that’s the perspective I’m coming from.
Isis: I believe the border represents a line. It’s like once something is over when you both cross that line it’s like taking those moments in. if you’re in a relationship it’s how you deal with that afterwards and reflecting little things like that. I feel like people can really relate to the song and how it works for them. The song is definitely something we wrote from our experiences. Like us ending a relationship, it’s like, ‘what’s going to happen from here? What am I going to do?’ you have to deal with that. Those are those moments that everyone has to deal with but however you hear the story that’s how you’re going to relate to it. So I don’t want to tell anyone the song’s concrete meaning, but I’m just glad that people can relate to it, sing it, and really feel it.
Abi: Tell us how you got your start in music.
Alex: I’ve been singing my whole life. I was surrounded with it as I grew up. My dad was a producer and singer. My mom sang, my sister sang. My family is pretty musical. So it’s rubbed off on me and became a passion of mine.
Isis: I’ve always been interested. I grew up in the church. My mom sings in the church, my step father, he plays at church, and my dad had a record store when I was younger. But just one day out the blue, I asked my dad, hey can I get a guitar for my birthday, not knowing that it was going to be a part of my life. But something in me wanted it. I don’t know why, but I got one for my birthday and I just started learning it. I started picking up chords, taught myself, but I had a few lessons, but majority of it was just kind of like me learning how to play.
I’ve just been surrounded by a bunch of friends in the music industry. I just never thought I would really be involved. I knew that I wanted to, I just didn’t know how. Meeting Alex, that’s when I put everything in perspective and put it in a lane for me.
Abi: Nice, so you guys were like destined to meet. From Wondaland signed artists like Jidenna we’ve learned that being signed to Wondaland is like being a part of a collective. Describe what the experience has been like for you as a group.
Alex: It’s definitely a family environment. Every time we come over it feels like home. It feels like going to a cousin’s house or something, because it just feels so welcoming and everybody is always so welcoming.
Isis: Like we are here now and we were here yesterday and Jidenna came by for rehearsals and a couple of people were here and it was like hey what’s up. It’s just like an orphanage I guess [laughs]. There’s food, TV, everything. It’s nice.
Abi: How has working with Janelle Monae influenced your work?
Alex: She’s such an individual; it’s inspiring to see that. It just helps us to know that we can remain ourselves and not have to change or anything just based off of seeing her and being inspired by what she does. It’s great. We love Janelle. She’s a great influence.
Abi: How did you get signed to the label?
Isis: when we were doing showcases I knew a couple of people who were with Wondaland but I never made it known that I was performing and doing any shows but I told someone and when they saw us perform they ended up telling people at Wondaland so one by one—Chuck would come by, and then Nate would come by, and then other people involved in Wondaland would come. Then one day Janelle came by and it was like, ‘what, you’re in this basement with us watching us?’ after that they were like, ‘hey, we really want to be involved in what you guys are doing.’ After that, we kept in touch, they gave us books to read to make sure we understood what we were getting ourselves into as far as the music industry. It was just kind of like, development and making sure we understood what we were doing and why we were doing it. From then on we formed a great relationship. So we’re here now.
Abi: That’s cool to hear they developed you guys that way. I love that. Your sound is so smooth. It’s beautiful, it’s street, it’s rock, it’s ethereal—frankly, it’s hard to label. Who are your influences?
Alex: So many. It’s not even about who it is, it’s what it is as well—the sun coming up in the morning looking out the window, the glare on the walls, colors, movies…we love so many different types of music and different artists.
Isis: From artists today. To like…I know Alex really like Nina Simone, I love Stevie Wonder. People like that. The legends and people of today like Solange and Frank Ocean. It’s so much music nowadays it’s really hard to pinpoint one or two influences.
Abi: In terms of style, what inspires what you wear individually?
Alex: I love vintage clothing. I love the 70s and that time. Sometimes I dress like I’m from the 70s and sometimes I dress like a tomboy from the 90s. I’m just inspired by how I feel when I wake up. Some days I feel like a bum other days I feel like a 70s superstar
Isis: I love vintage clothes too and that’s where Alex and I met, at a vintage boutique where we worked so we are definitely into that. I spent a lot of my school years overseas in England, so I’ve been really inspired by the style there. I love cleanliness and I love simplicity. I love Audrey Hepburn. Her style is amazing. I love wearing turtle necks and I make sure that I’m comfortable. If I have a piece that I can wear all the time and no one knows that I wore it two days ago then that’s cool.
You both are so beautiful. What are some beauty regimens you can’t do without?
Alex: I can’t go without the Clearsonic brush and charcoal soap. That’s my go-to when I wash my face. Gotta get in those pores. Flax seed oil is definitely good for your skin. I recently started steaming my face with rosewater and it’s been doing great.
Isis: I love masks. I use the Aztec Clay for a mask and I have to wash my face with something sensitive. Even if your skin isn’t sensitive I always think it’s great to use sensitive skin products to protect your face. I just started using argan oil to moisturize my face.